Analysis: The best player in the world continues to improve. LeBron James averaged career-highs in field goal percentage (56.5), three-point percentage (40.6) and rebounds (8.0) in leading the Heat to the NBA's best record and a 12-game lead over the No. 2 seed Knicks in the Eastern Conference. A stretch from February 3 to March 25 defined the Heat's season, as the team rattled off 27 consecutive victories, the second-longest winning streak in league history. Since losing to the Bulls on March 27, Miami has gone 10-1 despite resting their stars for a playoff push.
The team will attempt its title defense with a bench that's a bit more robust than the squad that beat the Thunder in five games in last year's Finals. Among the new faces are Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and Chris Anderson. Allen, who turns 38 in July, has embraced his new role as sixth man, providing the second unit with perimeter shooting.
Miami is heavily favored to return to the Finals, but New York and Indiana are both capable of hanging with James and co. in a seven-game series.
Analysis: After five consecutive losing seasons, the Nets were a franchise in need of a reset. Several offseason moves, most notably a relocation to Brooklyn, have resulted in a playoff berth. The team started 11-4, but dropped 10 of their next 13 games and fired head coach Avery Johnson. P.J. Carlesimo took the helm and guided the Nets to a 35-19 mark the rest of the way. The team has benefited from a healthy campaign from Brook Lopez, who averaged 19.4 points and 6.9 rebounds per game after playing just five games in 2011-12. While Lopez has underwhelmed as a rebounder, his frontcourt teammate Reggie Evans pulled down 11.1 boards in just 24.6 minutes per contest.
On the perimeter, Joe Johnson's first season in Brooklyn left something to be desired. The shooting guard's 16.3 points per game and 42.3 field goal percentage were his lowest outputs since 2002-03. While an acclimation period is certainly understandable, Johnson's numbers have declined during the season, as he's averaged 14.2 points per game since the All-Star break.
Deron Williams is firmly entrenched as the face of the franchise and his play at point guard will determine how far the Nets can go. On paper, the team appears to be a notch below the conference's elite.
Chances of Winning Conference Semi-Finals: Heat 90.0%- Nets 6.4%
Series MVP: LeBron James - 24.1 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 7.6 APG
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